The Pizzicato Five Discography: Canon 1991-1993

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W. David Marx listened to every single major release from legendary Shibuya-kei band, Pizzicato Five, so you don’t have to. This is part three of a five-part series, covering the band’s first releases with singer Nomiya Maki.

This Year’s Model e.p. (June 1991)
thisyearsmodel “The Third” and near-final version of Pizzicato Five starts here with the addition of Portable Rock singer Nomiya Maki. In the band’s rebirth, P5 planned an ambitious schedule: releasing three EPs and an album over four months. This first EP is a slight let down in terms of musical content: it’s more a Maki manifesto. We get an overly long burst of spoken Japanese at a live show introducing the new version of the band, and then on “This Year’s Girl #1” a protracted interview with a scripted, infantilized Nomiya over hip-hop beats talking about her love of Betty Boop, Betsy Johnson, and school uniforms. (Also, who in the world asks the question, “What is the first thing you put in your mouth when you wake up?”) As for the actual songs: the fast jazz swing “Bridget Bardot TNT” feels a lot like old muddy-mix P5 with a new singer. There is an “Amen, My Brother” drum break hidden in there, however, and “Let’s Be Adult” has enough synth bass wobble, film samples, and club beats to give a clear sense of P5’s new direction. And yes, Nomiya is holding a Little Red Book on the cover (think Godard, not Mao).
(B-) — The introduction of a concept, without following through on proof

London Paris Tokyo e.p (July 1991)
londonparistokyo Another small step towards the Pizzicato Five we know and love. The EP starts with the band’s favorite “a new stereophonic sound spectacular” sample and subsequently descends into a sound collage complete with stereo-panned airplane noise. But then a small step backwards? “London-Paris” is punk-speed Public Image Limited with a vicious heavy metal guitar solo. And then “Tokyo’s Coolest Sound” actually is not Tokyo’s coolest sound at all — it’s generic dub reggae with delayed pianica (which they thankfully improve on the full-length version). “Past, Present, Future” is also guitar-based, and then we get the first long version of club pop “Thank You.”
(C+) — A new band with a new energy, but the wrong new direction

Readymade Recordings e.p. (August 1991)
readymadepizzicatofive Of all the pre-album 1991 EPs, this pleasant live recording of the band may be the most “interesting” and least repetitive to later work. Lots of güiro in the laid-back jazz ensemble but also shockingly minimal in parts. “Lament No. 5” is the stand-out, with the hook stolen from “Comin’ Home Baby.” On the filler side: a poetry reading.
(B-) — Non-essential, but at least, different

This Year’s Girl (September 1991)
thisyearsgirl This is the first true Pizzicato Five album — the classic sound, canonical songs — and a big step up in quality thanks to Nomiya Maki’s enormous presence. “I” (私のすべて) cleans out all instrumental sounds at the mid-range so that her voice floats to the very top. Both “Sankyu” and “Baby Love Child” start a successful formula of matching sweet melodies to club beats (in the latter case, the “Funky Drummer” break.) And then “Twiggy Twiggy” is the quintessential loungecore sound that almost no one ever did as well as Pizzicato Five: looped jazz drum samples and daintiness galore. In case you were not plenty entertained already, Konishi and co. also pull off one of the best ever Hosono Haruomi covers with the amped-up “Party.”
(A) — The album that truly marks the start of Pizzicatomania

Sweet Pizzicato Five (September 1992)
sweetpizzicatofive Rule #1 in the P5 playbook is “always change,” so after a vocal-driven melodic pop album, Pizzicato Five needed to do something completely different. And the answer was, an album of house tracks. With “Flower Drum Song” and “Catchy,” these are not pop songs stretched out over TR-909 beats but abstracted musical passages made for the dance floor. The pace can be repetitive in parts, but there are a variety of emotions: “Telepathy” is sweet, “Shock Treatment” is sexy. “Kdd” is, however, unlistenable due to the sound of a ringing phone throughout. With every song going six to seven minutes, this is not the most pleasant Pizzicato Five effort, but it did expand their production palette for successes further down the line. Trivia: “Cosmic Blues” has a melodic reference to the Hosono song “Hurricane Dorothy” while “Catchy” seems to sample the soundtrack to Twin Peaks.
(B) — P5 goes New York house

Instant Replay (March 1993)
instantreplay In 1993, Pizzicato Five had a unique sound, a permanent singer, and a body of popular tunes — so it was time for a live album. For most of the songs, Nomiya sings over a cinematic parody of a hotel jazz band, which works well for “Twiggy Twiggy” and pre-canon “The Audrey Hepburn Complex.” They are also able to do some of the house songs with backtracks. Results are mixed. “Action Painting” oddly sounds less Pizzicato-like than in its Hosono-incarnation.
(B-) — A respectable lounge band with strong vocals and pleasant fans

Bossa Nova 2001 (June 1993)
bossanova2001 This is the moment when Pizzicato Five became a Japanese social phenomenon. With production from Oyamada Keigo, fresh out of his band Flipper’s Guitar, we have a strong set of 1960s, French, bossa nova influenced club pop songs with the perfect mix of live musicians, samples, and dance beats. Thanks to placement in a cosmetics ad, “Sweet Soul Revue” made the band into megastars. The song itself owes a lot to Sly & the Family Stone but adds a giant pop melody that sounds nothing like “Dance to the Music.” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Peace Music” are perfect Beatles pastiches with a club beat. From a discographical standpoint, the main innovation here is a much stronger sequencing of non-overly long songs. There is filler towards the end, but the first 15 minutes of the album are nearly perfect. And “Hare Krishna” and “Playback 2001” are very good songs for the fact that they have been left out of the canon.
(A+) — The quintessential P5 sound, perfectly executed

Expo 2001 (November 1993)
expo2001 Remix albums are about taking (timeless) pop songs and making them fit the (timely) dance floor. They age poorly. This album has aged poorly.
(D) — House remixes and worse, unnecessary for the 21st century

Part Three: The Nomiya Maki Years 1994-1997

W. David MARX
November 30, 2016

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

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